Giorgos Seferis

 

Erotikos Logos

 

I

 

Rose of fate, you looked for ways to wound us

yet you bent like the secret about to be released

and the command you chose to give us was beautiful

and your smile was like a ready sword.

 

The ascent of your cycle livened creation

from your thorn emerged the way's thought

our impulse dawned naked to possess you

the world was easy: a simple pulsation.

 

 

 

II

 

The secrets of the sea are forgotten on the shores

the darkness of the depths is forgotten in the surf;

the corals of memory suddenly shine purple. . .

O do not stir. . . listen to hear its light

 

motion. . . you touched the tree with the apples

the hand reached out, the thread points the way and guides you. . .

O dark shivering in the roots and the leaves

if it were but you who would bring the forgotten dawn!

 

May lilies blossom again on the meadow of separation

may days open mature, the embrace of the heavens,

may those eyes alone shine in the glare

the pure soul be outlined like the song of a flute.

 

Was it night that shut its eyes? Ashes remain,

as from the string of a bow a choked hum remains,

ash and dizziness on the black shore

and dense fluttering imprisoned in surmise.

 

Rose of the wind, you knew but took us unknowing

at a time when thought was building bridges

so that fingers would knit and two fates pass by

and spill into the low and rested light.

 

 

 

III

 

O dark shivering in the roots and the leaves!

Come forth sleepless form in the gathering silence

raise your head from your cupped hands

so that your will be done and you tell me again

 

the words that touched and merged with the blood like an embrace;

and let your desire, deep like the shade of a walnut tree, bend

and flood us with your lavish hair

from the down of the kiss to the leaves of the heart.

 

You lowered your eyes and you had the smile

that masters of another time humbly painted.

Forgotten reading from an ancient gospel,

your words breathed and your voice was gentle:

 

‘The passing of time is soft and unworldly

and pain floats lightly in my soul

dawn breaks in the heavens, the dream remains afloat

and it's as if scented shrubs were passing.

 

‘With my eyes' startling, with my body's blush

a flock of doves awakens and descends

their low, circling flight entangles me

the stars are a human touch on my breast.

 

‘I hear, as in a sea shell, the distant

adverse and confused lament of the world

but these are moments only, they disappear,

and the two-branched thought of my desire reigns alone.

 

‘It seemed I'd risen naked in a vanished recollection

when you came, strange and familiar, my beloved

to grant me, bending, the boundless deliverance

I was seeking from the wind's quick sistrum. . .'

 

The broken sunset declined and was gone

and it seemed a delusion to ask for the gifts of the sky.

You lowered your eyes. The moon's thorn blossomed

and you became afraid of the mountain's shadows.

 

. . . In the mirror how our love diminishes

in sleep the dreams, school of oblivion

in the depths of time, how the heart contracts

and vanishes in the rocking of a foreign embrace. . .

 

 

 

IV

 

Two serpents, beautiful, apart, tentacles of separation

crawl and search, in the night of the trees,

for a secret love in hidden bowers;

sleepless they search, they neither drink nor eat.

 

Circling, twisting, their insatiable intent

spins, multiplies, turns, spreads rings on the body

which the laws of the starry dome silently govern,

stirring its hot, irrepressible frenzy.

 

The forest stands as a shivering pillar for night

and the silence is a silver cup where moments fall

echoes distinct, whole, a careful chisel

sustained by carved lines. . .

 

The statue suddenly dawns. But the bodies have vanished

in the sea in the wind in the sun in the rain.

So the beauties nature grants us are born

but who knows if a soul hasn't died in the world.

 

The parted serpents must have circled in fantasy

(the forest shimmers with birds, shoots, blossoms)

their wavy searching still remains,

like the turnings of the cycle that bring sorrow.

 

 

 

V

 

Where is the double-edged day that had changed everything?

Won't there be a navigable river for us?

Won't there be a sky to dropp refreshing dew

for the soul benumbed and nourished by the lotus?

 

On the stone of patience we wait for the miracle

that opens the heavens and makes all things possible

we wait for the angel as in the age-old drama

at the moment when the open roses of twilight

 

disappear. . . Red rose of the wind and of fate,

you remained in memory only, a heavy rhythm

rose of the night, you passed, undulating purple

undulation of the sea. . . The world is simple.

 

 

Epiphany

 

The flowering sea and the mountains in the moon's waning

the great stone close to the Barbary figs and the asphodels

the jar that refused to go dry at the end of day

and the closed bed by the cypress trees and your hair

golden; the stars of the Swan and that other star, Aldebaran.

 

I've kept a rein on my life, kept a rein on my life, travelling

among yellow trees in driving rain

on silent slopes loaded with beech leaves,

no fire on their peaks; it's getting dark.

I've kept a rein on my life; on your left hand a line

a scar at your knee, perhaps they exist

on the sand of the past summer perhaps

they remain there where the north wind blew as I hear

an alien voice around the frozen lake.

The faces I see do not ask questions nor does the woman

bent as she walks giving her child the breast.

I climb the mountains; dark ravines; the snow-covered

plain, into the distance stretches the snow-covered plain, they ask nothing

neither time shut up in dumb chapels nor

hands outstretched to beg, nor the roads.

I've kept a rein on my life whispering in a boundless silence

I no longer know how to speak nor how to think; whispers

like the breathing of the cypress tree that night

like the human voice of the night sea on pebbles

like the memory of your voice saying ‘happiness'.

 

I close my eyes looking for the secret meeting-place of the waters

under the ice the sea's smile, the closed wells

groping with my veins for those veins that escape me

there where the water-lilies end and that man

who walks blindly across the snows of silence.

I've kept a rein on my life, with him, looking for the water that touches you

heavy drops on green leaves, on your face

in the empty garden, drops in the motionless reservoir

striking a swan dead in its white wings

living trees and your eyes riveted.

 

This road has no end, has no relief, however hard you try

to recall your childhood years, those who left, those

lost in sleep, in the graves of the sea,

however much you ask bodies you've loved to stoop

under the harsh branches of the plane trees there

where a ray of the sun, naked, stood still

and a dog leapt and your heart shuddered,

the road has no relief; I've kept a rein on my life.

 

The snow

and the water frozen in the hoofmarks of the horses.

 

 

 

Mythistorema

 

1

 

The angel —

three years we waited for him, attention riveted,

closely scanning

the pines the shore the stars.

One with the blade of the plough or the ship's keel

we were searching to find once more the first seed

so that the age-old drama could begin again.

 

We returned to our homes broken,

limbs incapable, mouths cracked

by the tastes of rust and brine.

when we woke we traveled towards the north, strangers

plunged into mist by the immaculate wings of swans that wounded us.

On winter nights the strong wind from the east maddened us,

in the summers we were lost in the agony of days that couldn't die.

 

We brought back

these carved reliefs of a humble art.

 

 

 

2

 

Still one more well inside a cave.

It used to be easy for us to draw up idols and ornaments

to please those friends who still remained loyal to us.

 

The ropes have broken; only the grooves on the well's lip

remind us of our past happiness:

the fingers on the rim, as the poet put it.

The fingers feel the coolness of the stone a little,

Then the body's fever prevails over it

and the cave stakes its soul and loses it

every moment, full of silence, without a dropp of water.

 

 

 

3

 

Remember the baths where you were murdered

 

I woke with this marble head in my hands;

it exhausts my elbow and I don't know where to put it down.

It was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream

so our life became one and it will be very difficult for it to separate again.

 

I look at the eyes: neither open nor closed

I speak to the mouth which keeps trying to speak

I hold the cheeks which have broken through the skin.

That's all I'm able to do.

 

My hands disappear and come towards me

mutilated.

 

 

 

4

 

Argonauts

 

And a soul

if it is to know itself

must look

into its own soul:

the stranger and enemy, we've seen him in the mirror.

 

They were good, the companions, they didn't complain

about the work or the thirst or the frost,

they had the bearing of trees and waves

that accept the wind and the rain

accept the night and the sun

without changing in the midst of change.

They were fine, whole days

they sweated at the oars with lowered eyes

breathing in rhythm

and their blood reddened a submissive skin.

Sometimes they sang, with lowered eyes

as we were passing the deserted island with the Barbary figs

to the west, beyond the cape of the dogs

that bark.

If it is to know itself, they said

it must look into its own soul, they said

and the oar's struck the sea's gold

in the sunset.

We went past many capes many islands the sea

leading to another sea, gulls and seals.

Sometimes disconsolate women wept

lamenting their lost children

and others frantic sought Alexander the Great

and glories buried in the depths of Asia.

 

We moored on shores full of night-scenes,

the birds singing, with waters that left on the hands

the memory of a great happiness.

But the voyages did not end.

Their souls became one with the oars and the oarlocks

with the solemn face of the prow

with the rudder's wake

with the water that shattered their image.

The companions died one by one,

with lowered eyes. Their oars

mark the place where they sleep on the shore.

 

No one remembers them. Justice

 

 

 

5

 

We didn't know them

deep down it was hope that said

we'd known them since early childhood.

We saw them perhaps twice and then they took to the ships:

cargoes of coal, cargoes of grain, and our friends

lost beyond the ocean forever.

Dawn finds us beside the tired lamp

drawing on paper, awkwardly, painfully,

ships mermaids or sea shells;

at dusk we go down to the river

because it shows us the way to the sea;

and we spend the nights in cellars that smell of tar.

 

Our friends have left us

perhaps we never saw them, perhaps

we met them when sleep

still brought us close to the breathing wave

perhaps we search for them because we search for the other life,

beyond the statues.

 

 

 

6

 

M.R.

 

The garden with its fountains in the rain

you will see only from behind the clouded glass

of the low window. Your room

will be lit only by the flames from the fireplace

and sometimes the distant lightning will reveal

the wrinkles on your forehead, my old Friend.

 

The garden with the fountains that in your hands

was a rhythm of the other life, beyond the broken

statues and the tragic columns

and a dance among the oleanders

near the new quarries —

misty glass will have cut it off from your life.

You won't breathe; earth and the sap of the trees

will spring from your memory to strike

this window struck by rain

from the outside world.

 

 

 

7

 

South wind

 

Westward the sea merges with a mountain range.

From our left the south wind blows and drives us mad,

the kind of wind that strips bones of their flesh.

Our house among pines and carobs.

Large windows. Large tables

for writing you the letters we've been writing

so many months now, dropping them

into the space between us in order to fill it up.

 

Star of dawn, when you lowered your eyes

our hours were sweeter than oil

on a wound, more joyful than cold water

to the palate, more peaceful than a swan's wings.

You held our life in the palm of your hand.

After the bitter bread of exile,

at night if we remain in front of the white wall

your voice approaches us like the hope of fire;

and again this wind hones

a razor against our nerves.

 

Each of us writes you the same thing

and each falls silent in the other's presence,

watching, each of us, the same world separately

the light and darkness on the mountain range

and you.

Who will lift this sorrow from our hearts?

Yesterday evening a heavy rain and again today

the covered sky burdens us. Our thoughts -

like the pine needles of yesterday's downpour

bunched up and useless in front of our doorway —

would build a collapsing tower.

 

Among these decimated villages

on this promontory, open to the south wind

with the mountain range in front of us hiding you,

who will appraise for us the sentence to oblivion?

Who will accept our offering, at this close of autumn?

 

 

 

8

 

What are they after, our souls, travelling

on the decks of decayed ships

crowded in with sallow women and crying babies

unable to forget themselves either with the flying fish

or with the stars that the masts point our at their tips;

grated by gramophone records

committed to non-existent pilgrimages unwillingly

murmuring broken thoughts from foreign languages.

 

What are they after, our souls, travelling

on rotten brine-soaked timbers

from harbour to harbour?

 

Shifting broken stones, breathing in

the pine's coolness with greater difficulty each day,

swimming in the waters of this sea

and of that sea,

without the sense of touch

without men

in a country that is no longer ours

nor yours.

 

We knew that the islands were beautiful

somewhere round about here where we grope,

slightly lower down or slightly higher up,

a tiny space.

 

 

 

9

 

The harbour is old, I can't wait any longer

for the friend who left the island with the pine trees

for the friend who left the island with the plane trees

for the friend who left for the open sea.

I stroke the rusted cannons, I stroke the oars

so that my body may revive and decide.

The sails give off only the smell

of salt from the other storm.

 

If I chose to remain alone, what I longed for

was solitude, not this kind of waiting,

my soul shattered on the horizon,

these lines, these colours, this silence.

 

The night's stars take me back to Odysseus,

to his anticipation of the dead among the asphodels.

When we moored here we hoped to find among the asphodels

the gorge that knew the wounded Adonis.

 

 

 

10

 

Our country is closed in, all mountains

that day and night have the low sky as their roof.

We have no rivers, we have no wells, we have no springs,

only a few cisterns — and these empty — that echo, and that we worship.

A stagnant hollow sound, the same as our loneliness

the same as our love, the same as our bodies.

We find it strange that once we were able to build

our houses, huts and sheep-folds.

And our marriages, the cool coronals and the fingers,

become enigmas inexplicable to our soul.

How were our children born, how did they grow strong?

 

Our country is closed in. The two black Symplegades

close it in. When we go down

to the harbours on Sunday to breathe freely

we see, lit in the sunset,

the broken planks from voyages that never ended,

bodies that no longer know how to love.

 

 

 

11

 

Sometimes your blood froze like the moon

in the limitless night your blood

spread its white wings over

the black rocks, the shapes of trees and houses,

with a little light from our childhood years.

 

 

 

12

 

Bottle in the sea

 

Three rocks, a few burnt pines, a lone chapel

and farther above

the same landscape repeated starts again:

three rocks in the shape of a gateway, rusted,

a few burnt pines, black and yellow,

and a square hut buried in whitewash;

and still farther above, many times over,

the same landscape recurs level after level

to the horizon, to the twilit sky.

 

Here we moored the ship to splice the broken oars,

to drink water and to sleep.

The sea that embittered us is deep and unexplored

and unfolds a boundless calm.

Here among the pebbles we found a coin

and threw dice for it.

The youngest won it and disappeared.

 

We put to sea again with our broken oars.

 

 

 

13

 

Hydra

 

Dolphins banners and the sound of cannons.

The sea once so bitter to your soul

bore the many-coloured and glittering ships

it swayed, rolled and tossed them, all blue with white wings,

once so bitter to your soul

now full of colours in the sun.

 

White sails and sunlight and wet oars

struck with a rhythm of drums on stilled waves.

 

Your eyes, watching, would be beautiful,

your arms, reaching out, would glow,

your lips would come alive, as they used to,

at such a miracle:

that's what you were looking for

what were you looking for in front of ashes

or in the rain in the fog in the wind

even when the lights were growing dim

and the city was sinking and on the stone pavement

the Nazarene showed you his heart,

what were you looking for? why don't you come? what were you looking for?

 

 

 

14

 

Three red pigeons in the light

inscribing our fate in the light

with colours and gestures of people

we once loved.

 

 

 

15

 

Quid πλατανων opacissimus

 

Sleep wrapped you in green leaves like a tree

you breathed like a tree in the quiet light

in the limpid spring I looked at your face:

eyelids closed, eyelashes brushing the water.

In the soft grass my fingers found your fingers

I held your pulse a moment

and felt elsewhere your heart's pain.

 

Under the plane tree, near the water, among laurel

sleep moved you and scattered you

around me, near me, without my being able to touch the whole of you —

one as you were with your silence;

seeing your shadow grow and diminish,

lose itself in the other shadows, in the other

world that let you go yet held you back.

 

The life that they gave us to live, we lived.

Pity those who wait with such patience

lost in the black laurel under the heavy plane trees

and those, alone, who speak to cisterns and wells

and drown in the voice's circles.

Pity the companion who shared our privation and our sweat

and plunged into the sun like a crow beyond the ruins,

without hope of enjoying our reward.

 

Give us, outside sleep, serenity.

 

 

 

16

 

The name is Orestes

 

On the track, once more on the track, on the track,

how many times around, how many blood-stained laps, how many black

rows; the people who watch me,

who watched me when, in the chariot,

I raised my hand glorious, and they roared triumphantly.

 

The froth of the horses strikes me, when will the horses tire?

The axle creaks, the axle burns, when will the axle burst into flame?

When will the reins break, when will the hooves

tread flush on the ground

on the soft grass, among the poppies

where, in the spring, you picked a daisy.

They were lovely, your eyes, but you didn't know where to look

nor did I know where to look, I, without a country,

I who go on struggling here, how many times around?

and I feel my knees give way over the axle

over the wheels, over the wild track

knees buckle easily when the gods so will it,

no one can escape, what use is strength, you can't

escape the sea that cradled you and that you search for

at this time of trial, with the horses panting,

with the reeds that used to sing in autumn to the Lydian mode

the sea you cannot find no matter how you run

no matter how you circle past the black, bored Eumenides,

unforgiven.

 

 

 

17

 

Astyanax

 

Now that you are leaving, take the boy with you as well,

the boy who saw the light under the plane tree,

one day when trumpets resounded and weapons shone

and the sweating horses

bent to the trough to touch with wet nostrils

the green surface of the water.

 

The olive trees with the wrinkles of our fathers

the rocks with the wisdom of our fathers

and our brother's blood alive on the earth

were a vital joy, a rich pattern

for the souls who knew their prayer.

 

Now that you are leaving, now that the day of payment

dawns, now that no one knows

whom he will kill and how he will die,

take with you the boy who saw the light

under the leaves of that plane tree

and teach him to study the trees.

 

 

 

18

 

I regret having let a broad river slip through my fingers

without drinking a single drop.

Now I'm sinking into the stone.

A small pine tree in the red soil

is all the company I have.

Whatever I loved vanished with the houses

that were new last summer

and crumbled in the winds of autumn.

 

 

 

19

 

Even if the wind blows it doesn't cool us

and the shade is meagre under the cypress trees

and all around slopes ascending to the mountains;

 

they're a burden for us

the friends who no longer know how to die.

 

 

 

20

 

In my breast the wound opens again

when the stars descend and become kin to my body

when silence falls under the footsteps of men.

 

These stones sinking into time, how far will they drag me with them?

The sea, the sea, who will be able to drain it dry?

I see the hands beckon each drawn to the vulture and the hawk

bound as I am to the rock that suffering has made mine,

I see the trees breathing the black serenity of the dead

and then the smiles, so static, of the statues.

 

 

 

21

 

We who set out on this pilgrimage

looked at the broken statues

became distracted and said that life is not so easily lost

that death has unexplored paths

and its own particular justice;

 

that while we, still upright on our feet, are dying,

affiliated in stone

united in hardness and weakness,

the ancient dead have escaped the circle and risen again

and smile in a strange silence.

 

 

 

22

 

So very much having passed before our eyes

that even our eyes saw nothing, but beyond

and behind was memory like the white sheet one night in an enclosure

where we saw strange visions, even stranger than you,

pass by and vanish into the motionless foliage of a pepper tree;

 

having known this fate of ours so well

wandering among broken stones, three or six thousand years

searching in collapsed buildings that might have been our homes

trying to remember dates and heroic deeds:

will we be able?

 

having been bound and scattered,

having struggled, as they said, with non-existent difficulties

lost, then finding again a road full of blind regiments

sinking in marshes and in the lake of Marathon,

will we be able to die as we should?

 

 

 

23

 

A little farther

we will see the almond trees blossoming

the marble gleaming in the sun

the sea breaking into waves

 

a little farther,

let us rise a little higher.

 

 

 

24

 

Here end the works of the sea, the works of love.

Those who will some day live here where we end —

should the blood happen to darken in their memory and overflow —

let them not forget us, the weak souls among the asphodels,

let them turn the heads of the victims towards Erebus:

 

We who had nothing will school them in serenity.

 


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